Fritz Wotruba

1907 (Vienna) – 1975 (Vienna)

Wotruba is considered to be one of the most distinguished sculptors of the 20th century. From 1921 until 1924 he completed training as an engraver. Between 1926 and 1929 he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, where he was a student of Anton Hanak. In 1938 he emigrated to Switzerland, and did not return to Austria until after the end of World War Two. In 1945 he was appointed professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. A number of important artists came out of the “Wotruba School”, including H. Leinfellner, J. Pillhofer, A. Urteil, J. Avramidis, and A. Hrdlička.

At the beginning of his career, Wotruba attempted to distance himself from Viennese Art Nouveau and Expressionism, and worked primarily with abstract and round, three-dimensional shapes. Initially his human-like figures were sculpted in the Realism tradition: for example the Denkmal der Arbeit (Monument to Work) in Donawitz from 1932. In the 1950s he gradually moved away from human anatomy and focused increasingly on shapes that were bound to structural and tectonic laws. He created large, block-like figures in which cubes, blocks, tubes, cylinders, and eventually columns and pillars formed the basic shapes. During this time the artist also created objects for public spaces: for example the Wagner-Denkmal (Wagner Monument) in Mainz from 1969, or the Große liegende Figur (Large Reclining Figure) in Rotterdam from 1971.

The 1960s marked a fundamental change in his work once again. He developed a new concept based on the form of the cube. The shapes that he used became more dynamic and organic, and consequently moved away from block-like heaviness. During the 1960s and 1970s Wotruba dedicated himself to the field of stage design. He worked for the Salzburg Festival, and also in Athens, Berlin, and Vienna. Between 1974 and 1976 he designed the Kirche “Zur Heiligsten Dreifaltigkeit” (Church of the Most Holy Trinity) in the Mauer district of Vienna.

In 1958 he was awarded the Grand Austrian State Prize, and in 1971 he received the Austrian Decoration for Science and Art. Wotruba contributed greatly to the achievement of due recognition of Austrian sculpture after 1945.